Election 2016: A look ahead
Over the next eight months, Gair Rhydd will be building up coverage of the National Assembly of Wales elections, and it’ll be the most exciting and hard fought assembly election ever!
There are tough challenges facing every party heading into the campaign, and with a proportional voting system, every vote will count.
Welsh Labour is facing a tough challenge to continue their dominance in Welsh politics, having failed to connect with voters earlier this year. The recent leadership contest has also shown divisions in the party, and the new UK leader (not announced at the time of writing) has a challenge to unite the party. Despite this, Carwyn Jones suggested to BBC Radio Wales that the new UK Labour leader wouldn’t affect his campaign, “It’s a Welsh election and it will be Welsh Labour fighting the election with me as its leader.”
The Welsh Labour Government has come under intense pressure recently; criticized for their handling over the Welsh NHS and the education system, which are struggling to improve after years of promises. Having been in government since 1999 in Wales, rival parties will argue that after 16 years of Labour, it’s time for a change. Many have criticized Jones for blaming too many things on Westminster, without making enough changes in Wales to improve services.
They will argue that they’ve stuck to to most of their 2011 manifesto, and therefore they are a party the people can trust. Labour’s dominance is being challenged, successfully in some areas with two shock Conservative gains in the General Election, but will people turn back to Labour next year?
Looking at the opposition, a surprisingly successful election result in Wales paved the way to a Conservative majority in the General Election. Having had no MPs here at the 1997 or 2001 election, the party is progressing strongly with 11 seats this year. Andrew RT Davies will be feeling very positive, challenging Labour strongly and regularly, while defending the Westminster government for their actions.
Despite this, it seems highly unlikely that the Conservatives will be in government post-May, having just 13 seats currently, and a low vote share in the South Wales Valleys, where Labour heartlands lie. Plaid Cymru have ruled out a coalition with the Tories, and one with Labour is near impossible, leaving them at best a strong opposition this time next year.
You might remember Leanne Wood from the seven-way televised election debate, and Plaid Cymru will be hoping this high profile will help them make gains.
Since becoming leader in 2012, this will be Wood’s ultimate test for her leadership. In July, Wood claimed she had no intention to prop up any other party next year, whilst admitting that parties need to work together in the Senedd.
The party stood for an anti-austerity message at the General Election, but will need to concentrate far more on policy this year, and to offer something different, as the budget cannot be changed.
The Liberal Democrats vote share plummeted earlier this year and it was no different in Wales, but Welsh leader Kirsty Williams will be fighting for a different result next year. Looking at collaborating with other parties, the Welsh Liberal Democrats has not ruled out being in any coalition, even with the Conservatives, despite the effect to the party of being in a coalition at Westminster. With five seats, the party will be on the defensive heading into the election, and will be doing well not to face a wipeout.
Having come second in some constituencies earlier this year, UKIP’s message seems to be being heard in parts of the South Wales Valleys, and therefore are sure to focus campaigning in these areas. Former MP Mark Reckless recently stated that the “Cardiff Bay establishment” was out of touch in Wales, and this is why people should vote for his party. With immigration having been an influential factor in this year’s campaign, it seems unlikely the UKIP flame is going out anytime soon.
The Green Party made gains in Wales this year too, but still only managed 2.6 per cent of the vote. Pippa Bartolotti, Wales Green Party leader, stated after the election: “The public has shown they support our message to reverse austerity and build a safer, fairer future for Wales. We will build on this support over the next year in order to win seats at the Assembly elections.” A lot of campaigning will be needed however to see a Green AM in Cardiff Bay.
Gair Rhydd will be following every party and its campaigns over the coming months, interviewing influential people and keeping an eye on those interesting polls, so keep reading for updates every week during term time! We also want to hear from you throughout the year, send your comments on the campaigns to firstname.lastname@example.org or @GairRhyddPol.